The Honorable Tom Perez at the 2009 Advancing Justice Conference

LOS ANGELES — During a keynote address this afternoon, U.S. Assistant

Attorney General Thomas Perez pledged to the more than 400 Asian American and

Pacific Islander leaders assembled at the first annual Advancing Justice

Conference that the Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division, under his

leadership, would restore civil rights enforcement, by equally upholding all of

the nation’s civil rights laws, and transform civil rights by ensuring that his

division was responsive to the challenges facing diverse and emerging

communities.

Perez

spoke about the Justice Department’s duty to uphold all of our laws, instead of

approaching civil rights enforcement in a piecemeal approach.  The crowd

cheered enthusiastically as he told them, “The Civil Rights Department is now

open for business!”

Perez’s

speech capped off a morning session that featured a lively discussion about

hate-crimes prevention, a timely subject given the newly-enacted Matthew

Shepard and James Byrd, Jr., Hate Crimes Prevention Act, which expands the

federal definition of a hate crime to include gender, sexual orientation,

gender identity, and disability.  Other panels in the morning included a

discussion by low-wage workers rights advocates who addressed the numerous

obstacles to fair wages, equal treatment and safe and healthy working

conditions for Asian and other immigrant workers.

Students,

activists and nonprofit and public sector leaders also spent the morning

gaining a skills-based understanding of the concepts and practices of community

organizing, including defining power, identifying organizing models and

building an issue campaign. Linda Trinh Võ, chairwoman of the Asian American

Studies Department at the University of California, Irvine, moderated panelists

 Sefa Aina, director of Asian American Resource Center at Pomona College;

Sophya Chum, program director of Khmer Girls in Action; and Arnold Lee,

president of the Asian Pacific American Law Students Association of

Southwestern Law School.

In

the afternoon, Tuyet Le, executive director of the Asian American Institute,

moderated a panel discussion about capacity building for small organizations.

Small, community-based organizations face numerous hurdles when being launched

in good times, even more so in difficult economic times. Board development was

a main theme as panelists provided volunteer management tools to enable small

organizations to grow and expand. The panel included: Jury Candelario, director

of the Asian Pacific AIDS Intervention Team; Deborah Ching, principal of the

Nonprofit Consulting Group; and Preeti Kulkarni, a member of the Asian Pacific

Americans’ for Progress board.

The

Asian American Justice

Center’s Terry Ao, director

of census and voting programs, moderated a panel about the upcoming census and

how to make sure that Asian Pacific Americans are accurately counted in 2010,

thereby ensuring adequate federal funding in their communities. Kawaiopua Alo,

past president of Pacific Islander Community Council; Julia Chen, media

director of IW Group, Inc.,; James Christy, the Census Bureau’s Los Angeles

regional director; and Sara Pol-Lim, executive director of United Cambodian

Community, strategized about how leaders can engage their communities in the

Census. The panelists also discussed what messages have been found to be

effective for the Asian American and Pacific Islander communities, and the

real-world impact of an inaccurate count.

Also in the

afternoon, Karin Wang, vice president of programs at APALC, moderated a

discussion about civil rights at the intersections of gender identity,

sexuality, immigration and races.  The panel explored intersections

between lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) struggles and the broader

Asian American and Pacific Islander civil rights agenda, with a goal of

promoting greater inclusion of LGBT issues by AAPI allied organizations and

advocates. The panel discussed such issues such as the parallels between the

efforts to ban marriage between same-sex partners and earlier laws prohibiting

interracial marriage, the similar struggles of undocumented immigrants and

transgender individuals, and efforts to raise the concerns of same-sex

binational couples in both the marriage equality and immigration reform

movements.  Panelists included Ben De Guzman, co-director of programs at

the National Queer API Alliance, Yongho Kim, civic participation coordinator at

the Korean ResourceCenter, Hector Vargas, deputy director

at Lambda Legal, Doreena Wong, co-founder of the Asian/Pacific Islander Queer

Women/Transgender Activists and Shin-Ming Wong, helpline attorney at the National Center for Lesbian Rights.

Founded

in 1983, the Asian Pacific American Legal Center (APALC) is a nonprofit

organization dedicated to advocating for civil rights, providing legal services

and education, and building coalitions to positively influence and impact Asian

Pacific Americans and to create a more equitable and harmonious society. APALC

is affiliated with the Asian American Institute in Chicago, Asian American

Justice Center in Washington, D.C. and Asian Law Caucus in San Francisco.

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